Trash is big business

by Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

Let’s talk trash. Like what’s in your garbage can.
Just because we want to throw these things away, doesn’t mean they’re “trash.” We’re denigrating, belittling, disparaging, maligning, and slandering a valuable commodity.

Look, here in Tucumcari, we’re spending $1.2 million just for a place to put some of what we throw away.

What we call “trash” must be valuable. In the United States alone, there are 27,000 organizations at work in the waste industry. That includes 15,500 solid waste haulers and 11,500 who own 15,700 facilities for handling waste, according to a study financed by the Environmental Research and Education Foundation.

The industry employs approximately 367,000 people whose compensation amounts to $10 billion and approximately 206,000 pieces of heavy motorized equipment. Revenue? $43 billion.

Handling 544 million tons of waste in a year is a big job.
Of course, “trash” deserves a little respect. Trash is not “trash” to some.

In fact, there’s an organization, the Zero Waste Alliance, that says, “Waste is a resource in disguise.” Don’t say “waste,” say, “resource,” they say.
They’re advocating strategies that companies can use to reduce waste, improve efficiency and save money. Some big companies have turned waste into a “resource.” Actually, 70 percent of trash is “business” trash and in some places, businesses have to arrange for their own trash pickup and disposal.

We who create “residential” trash fortunately have municipal trash collection, trucks to come around and pick up what we have discarded in the dumpster in our alleys.
And what have we discarded? Mostly, it’s what we’ve bought in the grocery store. Cans that used to hold soup, vegetables, plastic containers for dish and laundry detergent. It’s a list that goes on and on.

Packages that used to hold cereal, crackers, frozen food. Just look around your kitchen.

Plus bottles (plastic and glass) that used to hold stuff we drink.

Truth is, as a society we’ve become addicted to buying stuff that we can then throw away. And that does create a problem.

We Americans generate an awful lot of trash, four pounds of it per person, every day of the year, according to the EPA. That adds up to, for the nation, about 600 million tons a year – or 210 million tons of solid waste (waste that contains less than 70 percent water).

A good portion, 27 percent, of that solid waste gets recycled and about 16 percent get burned. The remainder, 57 percent, is buried.

Buried where? In a dump, a hole in the ground – or in a landfill, which uses various means to isolate the trash from the environment.

But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a number of solutions to our problems. They’ve been talk about the 3Rs _ Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. And they’ve recently added a fourth, Respond.

Want a tip or two? Here’s the EPA’s 12 tips for reducing trash:
Reduce: Reduce the amount of unnecessary packaging, Adopt practices that reduce waste toxicity.

Reuse: Consider reusable products,Maintain and repair durable products, Reuse bags, containers, and other items, Borrow, rent or share items used infrequently. Sell or donate goods instead of throwing them out.

Recycle: Choose recyclable products and containers and recycle them. Select products made from recycled materials. Compost yard trimmings and some food scraps.

Respond: Educate others on source reduction and recycling practices. Be creative – find new ways to reduce waste quantity and toxicity.

Chelle Delaney is associate publisher for the Quay County Sun. Contact her at 461-1952 or by e-mail: chelle_delaney@link.freedom.com